ICE detainees in Newark on hunger strike

At least 10 detainees at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark, NJ, began a hunger strike March 17 and dozens more have agreed to join in, according to detainees, jailhouse advocates and attorneys. They are demanding to be released on bond, possibly with ankle bracelets to track their movements, and some even said they're ready to be deported. Inside the jail, they have been following news reports on the COVID-19 pandemic, and say they'd rather die on the outside with family than locked in cells. They also say that if loved ones die, they want to be with them rather than hearing the bad news later. Essex County has a multi-million dollar contract with ICE to house detainees awaiting immigration proceedings. County officials said they are monitoring the situation. (WNYC)

According to ICE's guidelines, detainees who do not eat for 72 hours must be referred to the medical department for evaluation. Detainees who refuse food for long periods of time are held down and force-fed through tubes in the nose. (Gothamist)

California to release up to 3,500 prisoners

The California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) announced that they will release up to 3,5000 prisoners as well as take other measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 among the inmate population and the staff. (Jurist)

Judges deny emergency release of California inmates

A federal court has rejected an emergency plea on procedural grounds to release thousands of California prison inmates to protect them from coronavirus, saying they do not have authority under a 2009 order limiting the state's prison population levels. (SacBee)

The 2009 order was issued in response to a wave of hunger strikes in California's prisons.

ACLU sues for release of Louisiana inmates after five die

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a class action lawsuit on April 6 against the director of the federal Bureau of Prisons (BoP) and the warden of Oakdale Federal Detention Centers in Louisiana seeking "the release of people who are incarcerated and at high risk for serious illness or death in the event of COVID-19 infection due to age and/or underlying medical conditions."

Oakdale prison has already confirmed "five coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic started," more than any other BoP facility. Despite the growing number of infected inmates, the suit also alleges that many inmates do not have access to hot water or soap, and 125 people are still sharing a single row of six showers. The ACLU believes that keeping low-risk inmates in such conditions not only violates the rights of the prisoners but also serves to endanger the communities around the prisons themselves.

Last week, US Attorney General William Barr singled out Oakdale prison in an order to several high-risk prisons that directed those prisons to reduce populations by instituting home confinement for some inmates. However, the ACLU believes that the Attorney General's order is not specific enough in either its timeline or parameters. They also allege that Oakdale has taken no action to release any prisoners since the issuance of the Attorney General's order. The suit asks a judge to step in and order the immediate release of inmates who fall under the ACLU's class action status. (Jurist)

Pennsylvania governor issues order authorizing prisoner releases

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf issued an executive order on April 10 authorizing the temporary release of some incarcerated individuals to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within state prisons. The order will apply to non-violent inmates eligible for release within the next nine months, as well as inmates considered to be high risk for complications due to coronavirus and who are eligible for release within the next twelve months. (Jurist)

Judge denies emergency release of California inmates —again

A federal judge refused April 17 to order California prison officials to release large number of inmates or impose social-distancing requirements as protections against the coronavirus, saying the state has acted reasonably so far by freeing several thousand prisoners ahead of schedule and taking steps to expand housing and improve sanitation.

District Judge Jon Tigar stated that in order for the court to grant relief, a violation of a federal right must have occurred, which in turn requires a finding that "defendants have been deliberately indifferent to a substantial risk of serious harm to inmate health or safety."

Currently, California has 29,410 positive cases of COVID-19, including 1,051 deaths. (Jurist)

Court overturns order on Texas prison COVID-19 measures

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held April 22 that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) does not have to comply with a list of COVID-19 protection measures from a lower court's ruling last week because it is already complying with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and the lower court's ruling goes beyond what would be constitutionally sufficient. (Jurist)

California court orders San Quentin prison population cut

The California Court of Appeal First Appellate District has ordered San Quentin State Prison (SQ) to reduce its population by half. The move is intended to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The order follows a writ of habeas corpus filed by Ivan Von Staich, an inmate in the prison. Staich, 64, suffers from respiratory problems. When he filed the petition, Staich and a 65-year-old cellmate had tested positive for COVID-19. In fact, 75% of SQ's inmate population and dozens of prison staff have tested positive. In the petition, Staich stated that conditions in the prison made social distancing impossible. (Jurist)